Are Lockdown Drills Necessary?

Hi tktfeiefdy
Folks! This reader talks about an issue that I am of two minds about. On the one hand, I truly believe — based on FBI statistics — that schools are extremely safe places and school shootings/terrorist attacks/mayhem are rarer than rare. On the other hand, tornadoes are pretty rare, too, and we had our share of those drills when I was a kid.

Of course, preparing for tornadoes (and fire) had a different social message to it. We were preparing for acts of God, not acts of unspeakable human depravity that just might be committed any day by anyone  — even a fellow student. So mostly, I think that these lockdowns are unnecessary and based on an excessively, nay, outrageously pessimistic view of our times.  And now let’s hear what you think. Here’s the letter that prompted such musings. – L 

Hi Lenore: I’ve just been reading Steven Pinker’s “Better Angels of our Nature,” and he gives you a generous few paragraphs in his section on violence and children. … Lately I’ve been having a fun time banging my head against a wall at the school I work at, where lockdown drills are mandated twice a year.

Our theme for school improvement this year is “Critical Thinking,” and in the interest of just that, I questioned the usefulness of such drills in a general e-mail in the school’s public folder, using yourself and Pinker, among others, as sources.  I pointed out that there have been only ten incidences of gun violence in Canadian schools in the last hundred years, with most of the casualties resulting from two of them.

Not only did my colleagues not want to listen to my arguments, they actually became angry and resisted the whole process of public debate!  One colleague actually took issue with the statistics, suggesting that we could extrapolate a “trend” from the microscopically rare incidents I had enumerated, and which therefore supported the kind of drastic action our board seems to think makes sense.  I’m still kind of shocked that there should be so little regard for either fact or debate amongst educators.

I’m sure you must feel the same frustration I do.  School violence is actually WAY down.  Here’s an interesting excerpt from a Q&A session with Pinker on the Freakonomics website, which is salient:

Q: Other than writing best-selling books what can people do to help society at large resist the urge to think things are worse and worse and the world is less and less safe when this is manifestly not the case? –Joshua Northey

A: A small portion of the population is willing to be reasoned with, but when I tell my reasonably intelligent sister that “children are probably safer today than at any time in human history,” she scoffs at me as if I am telling her that cigarettes have nothing to do with lung cancer. She is so dismissive she won’t even read the few things I have given her about it, and her attitude is not uncommon.

One necessity is greater statistical literacy among the population and especially among journalists. People need to think in terms of proportions rather than salient examples, to appreciate orders of magnitudes (ten thousand deaths versus ten million deaths), to distinguish random blips from systematic trends, and to be aware of—and thereby discount—their own cognitive biases. When Harvard revamped its undergraduate curriculum a few years ago, I lobbied (unsuccessfully) for a statistical and analytic thinking requirement.

Also, journalists have to rethink their policy of featuring only gory events and terrifying threats. Tensions that fizzle out (e.g, remember how a decade ago India and Pakistan were allegedly on the verge of nuclear war?), wars that sputter to a halt, “war-torn” countries that are no longer torn by war, and other happy events and non-events should be just as newsworthy as things that go bang.

I have been doing as Pinker tried to do, and arguing for a greater emphasis in on analytical thinking in the curriculum, as I’m more and more convinced that universal cognitive biases such as the Availability Heuristic and the Confirmation Bias, among others, ought to be taught formally, so people are at least aware of them.  As Northrop Frye told us, thinking is a skill, not an innate ability (but my students react angrily to that assertion as well!) — A High School Teacher to the North

89 Responses to Are Lockdown Drills Necessary?

  1. Karli December 22, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

    I read a book recently that, while a bit dry sometimes, makes for EXCELLENT reading for analyzing our critical thinking skills and helps to point out things like the “availability heuristic” and “confirmation bias” that the teacher talk about. I highly recommend it. It’s called, “Future Babble: Why Expert Predictions Fail – and Why We Believe Them Anyway” by Dan Gardner. I am truly amazed on a daily basis how so many of my educated friends take singular examples and use them to “prove” things as fact. I would support any push to require more statistical analysis and critical thinking in the classroom!

  2. Tim Gill December 22, 2011 at 3:21 pm #

    I agree there’s a problem, which Lenore elegantly calls ‘worst first thinking’. From my experience of writing, giving talks and running training around risk in childhood, I think a combination of hearts and minds is needed. Of these, the heart comes first. We need to get school leaders to care about the messages they are giving kids when they run these drills. Numbers come afterwards.

  3. Eleanor (undeadgoat) December 22, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    Everyone should read “Better Angels of Our Nature,” he’s got some really great stuff in there about war and homicide and rape and children and so forth and it really fits in with Lenore’s outlook here but addressing more aspects of society in less depth. (I have to admit I haven’t finished it though . . . I don’t like to read graphic descriptions of violence right before I go to sleep so sometimes I get a bit stuck.)

  4. Eleanor (undeadgoat) December 22, 2011 at 3:42 pm #

    On a note more related to Pinker than lockdowns, by pointing out that in a culture where not viewing rapists as psychopaths gets branded psychopathic, it’s clear that we no longer have a mainstream “rape culture,” some of my friends now consider me a “rape apologist” aka “anti-feminist psychopath.” I used to consider myself a feminist until I realized how many people would call me anti-feminist because I try to inhabit a fact-based reality . . .

  5. Emily December 22, 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    I’m still working that one out in my head, but I think I might disagree. I think it hugely depends on how it’s presented. And two drills a year seems a little excessive. But having some sort of plan in place to me fits more in the ‘prepared’ category than the ‘paranoid’ area. Now, what seems smartest is to have a general emergency drill, not specific. Isn’t the point to teach kids what to do when emergencies do happen? You’re not telling them to stay home, you’re teaching good life skills (again, this depends how it is presented). It’s unlikely we’ll have a house fire, but we should have a plan in place for if it does. Yes? Or am I making a poor comparison?

  6. Paula December 22, 2011 at 5:33 pm #

    I think the general emergency drill solution is the best idea. Kids hear enough about the dangers in the world from the ubiquitous media – we don’t need to be specific about which dangers might be avoided by following the directions for the emergency drill.

    During the cold war era, we had nuclear emergency drills, but they were just called emergency drills. Some kids knew that crouching in the hallway under our coat hooks was supposed to save us from nuclear disaster (whether we believed it or not depended largely on our parents’ politics), but most kids just saw the drill as a welcome opportunity to experience something other than sitting at our desks. Our teachers did not elucidate what could happen if the bomb struck, but just expected us to follow directions and not goof around too much under the coat hooks. Kids can learn what to do in a specific situation without dwelling on the purpose for it. Sometimes “just do what you’re told” is okay.

    That said, I do think it’s important to let our kids know that the world and most of the people in it are basically harmless when reasonable care is exercised (reasonable care = critical thinking). We must teach kids to be observant and not to be afraid to communicate honestly. And then we must listen to them.

  7. cvirtueCynthia December 22, 2011 at 6:06 pm #

    Although a generalized “emergency drill” sounds like a good idea, the response to a natural disaster is very different than the appropriate response if there’s a human threat. Lockdowns generally involve locking classroom doors and staying in them, while tornado drills (at least when I was a kid in Nebraska) involve everyone going to a stronger location, such as a basement or utility room that has few windows, and hunkering down.

    I think the critical thinking and the named fallacies education is very important; I’m teaching my kids that myself, as I can manage.

  8. Dolly December 22, 2011 at 7:35 pm #

    I don’t have a problem doing them once or twice a year just like you do earthquake and tornado drills. All of them are unlikely to happen, but you want to be prepared just in case.

  9. Dolly December 22, 2011 at 7:37 pm #

    ps Substitute teachers and their classes are screwed during a lockdown situation. I was bored one day while subbing and read the lockdown procedure I found taped to the wall in the classroom. The teacher is supposed to lock the door. Well subs don’t have any kinds of keys. We have to get the janitors or other teachers to unlock the classroom for us. So yeah…..certainly would suck for me and the students if something like that happened while I was subbing. We would be the only unlocked door in the school. I would probably tell everyone to go out the window if the shooters were not outside. Otherwise we are sitting ducks.

  10. Lola December 22, 2011 at 7:56 pm #

    Perhaps the approach is to adequate the emergency protocols to local threats. I don’t see the need to brace ourselves for a tsunami here in Madrid. But it’s sort of necessary to be on the lookout for fires or terrorist threats…
    So, if you live in a place where firearms are a common household appliance, then it makes sense to watch out for people misusing them, doesn’t it?

  11. Lola December 22, 2011 at 8:02 pm #

    BTW, about a couple of years ago, there was a holdup in an elementary school (in Mexico, I think). There was this teacher who behaved heroically, getting her 3yo kids on the floor and calmly singing to them while shootings went on in the hallway. The kids, little more than babies, were all calm and some even sang along with her. Astounding.

  12. David Kruger December 22, 2011 at 8:15 pm #

    Okay, so which is more important: Having the lockdown drill, assuming the worst in humanity, OR having lives needlessly lost or destroyed when humanity’s worst come into a school and start shooting it up?

    Frankly, I’d rather assume the worst and hope for the best.

    Plus, and here’s a RADICAL thought, maybe there are teachers who aren’t sure what to do and the drills help them!

    Or, like at my school, we had a small fire on Friday and the fire drill paid off.

    Hopefully, the lockdown drill won’t need to pay off.

  13. Kenny Felder December 22, 2011 at 8:16 pm #

    If all these fire drills and tornado drills and lockdown drills are *not* a huge waste of time–if they fall into the category of prudent, reasonable preparedness–then why do we have them only in schools? Shouldn’t Wal-Mart employees and Post Office employees and Microsoft employees and all the people who work in the U.S. Senate building be prepared for fires and tornadoes and mad gunmen?

    Obviously we aren’t going to start requiring these things of adults, which tells me that not only are they a waste of time, but we deep-down *know* they are a waste of time.

    Regarding Pinker’s larger point, I don’t think there is any way to get the general population to think rationally and statistically. But somehow, and this is always the mystery to me, somehow people didn’t used to think *this* way. No, they weren’t all statistical geniuses, but they didn’t file lawsuits whenever a kid got hurt, and they didn’t tear down all the swingsets on the off-chance that someone might strangle. So the huge unanswered question is, what changed, and how can we change it back?

    I’m so delighted to see Pinker giving you a shout-out, Lenore. He and you both rank high on my list of heroes.

  14. crowjoy December 22, 2011 at 8:25 pm #

    It’s all in the delivery, and there’s just no way to control for tone/attitude. So while a neutrally presented “here’s how we prepare for a very unlikely thing” could be smart and even comforting to a child, a panic-laced ritual of fear would be ineffectual and probably traumatic. I dislike them in general, and I work in emergency preparation. Drills are important, but only if people really understand why they’re doing them and how can you make a kid understand a lockdown drill without terrifying them?

    Our district is having a police/teacher meeting, which parents are invited to, to address concerns about children being approach at bus stops. The very same letter describes how there have been 2 incidents. One was quickly shown to be a “non criminal with no intent to commit a crime” incident in which a parental acquaintance had the nerve to approach children she knew at the bus stop. (Fool!) The other is under investigation. So we’re having a meeting for a non event and something being handled appropriately by the appropriate parties. Why? I’m at least pleased that the tone of the note was very neutral, almost wavering into “we know this is pointless but seems necessary.”

  15. Hayley December 22, 2011 at 8:50 pm #

    I was in middle school when Columbine happened, so by the time I got to high school, “intruder” drills were in place. Even as a high schooler, I saw the main, fatal (forgive the pun) flaw in the plan: most school shootings are perpetraded by students who attend the school, so the student attackers would be familiar with the drill (which struck me as a huge “duh!” at the time). You can’t plan for something like that without giving away the plan. It’s a Free Range tenant: we have to accept that there are certain events for which we cannot plan. Preparation will only do so much.

  16. Kimberly December 22, 2011 at 9:02 pm #

    I’ve taught for 11 years. We have had 3 real lockdowns.
    1. Drama lama of a student reported a man with a gun threatening a woman outside of my room. Turned out to be man with old style large cellphone beating his wife.

    2. There was a momentary confusion of 2 girls with very similar names during dismissal on the 1st day of school. (think Molly Caldwell, Shelly Shawell). Before it could be cleared up the Mom attacked the teacher and the parents went tearing through the school pulling down displays, banging on locked classroom doors threatening to kill all of us.

    3. An armed robber held up the store next door to the school. He then ran through our school grounds chased by the police. The police lost sight of him as he rounded a corner near an open door. They weren’t sure if he went across the street or was hiding in the building. We were locked down while they searched the building.

    During that time we have also had 2 real fire drills (AC equipment in the building started smoking), 0 real tornadoes, and 0 real shelters in place (We have a railroad that runs behind the school. That has chemical tankers daily)

    Most of the teachers I know tell similar stories lock downs are more likely to be triggered by criminal activity nearby, noncustodial/rampaging parents – not students killing each other.

  17. Heather G December 22, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

    I don’t have a problem with drills. Preparedness is empowering. However, for a drill to empower rather than create fear a few things need to happen. First twice a year is too much for a remote possibility. Once a year is plenty. Second it needs to be presented to students in an empowering way. Telling kids “we’re doing this in case of (insert threat here) is not empowering. Packaging it with things like basic first aid, other emergency preparedness and emphasizing that they will likely *never* need it but it’s good to know and using it as an opportunity to teach how to assess a risk and use critical thinking skills to evaluate and act on a situation calmly. Showing kids how the skills learned from the drill relate to other things (like not freaking out over a pop quiz or something in their home life goes really wrong) makes this useful not only in case of emergency but in every day life.

  18. LCMN December 22, 2011 at 9:41 pm #

    We just had a lockdown this week. There was a shooter less than 3 blocks from school. Shot an officer in the head while responding to a domestic call. The school thought it was safer to keep the children inside the school until law enforcement found the shooter. (So children were not walking home past the barricaded house while the SWAT team was securing the location, etc) Parents were not allowed to come to the school until after 630pm to pick up the kids.
    In a situation like this, I think it’s ok to prepare for what-if’s. It’s good to prepare teachers on how to calm down and entertain children in any situation. They report the last time someone was killed in this small town was back in 1970.

  19. TaraK December 22, 2011 at 9:47 pm #

    I didn’t read all the responses, but I’m becoming of the opinion that the drills are a good thing. My kids go to a smallish private school. We never gave a thought to intruder drills because we are a tight knit community. Then the Amish school was attacked several years ago. Now we have intruder drills because we learned that even tight knit communities are at risk (albiet small risk). If the Amish wouldn’t be considered a tight knit community what would?

    This week we also had a small school to the north of us about 15 miles go into lockdown until 7:00 at night because a nut job was on the lose in the town and they didn’t know where he was. He eventually shot and killed himself. He was seen at the school that morning.

    So yeah, at this point in history, I don’t think it hurts to empower kids to know what to do in an emergency. It’s all in how you present it. What are the odds of getting in a car accident every day? Pretty small? Yet we wear a seat belt EVERY TIME we are in a car. This week I came across two car accidents before emergency personnel. I was in fact just a few car lengths from having my van totaled with my four year old daughter in the exact spot in my van where the car creamed into another van. (No this isn’t a post on seat belts, I know FRK is totally in favor of seat belts! Just drawing a correlation between a little safety lesson twice a year “just in case” and buckling up “just in case”.)

  20. Donna December 22, 2011 at 9:48 pm #

    I’m not particularly a fan of any drills as handling a real emergency requires critical thinking and not strict adherence to some plan since most true emergencies are not textbook. Teaching critical thinking in emergencies would make us much safer than drilling into us that when X happens, you do Z and only Z because sometimes Z may not be the best option.

    That said if schools have drills, this lockdown one seems the most reasonable. In all my years of school, we never had an actual fire or tornado. Various schools in my school district have been placed on lockdown several times in the 5 years I’ve lived there. Mostly for things outside the school – a man at large after shooting 2 police officers who tried to arrest him for killing someone else, shootings in nearby neighborhoods. I live in the “inner city” so there have been a few lockdowns related to weapons found on school grounds. While I think most if the reasons for lockdowns are idiotic, it is apparent that they are likely to happen at some point, unlike fires and tornados, so they might as well drill them.

  21. TaraK December 22, 2011 at 9:51 pm #

    LCMN, I’m referring to that same incident! That was quite scary, wasn’t it?

  22. EMF December 22, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

    Kenny Felder, drills are mandated for adults in many situations. I worked in a high rise building in Chicago for many years and we had a fire drill once a year. Each floor has a floor captain (my best friend was one for years in a different high rise) and is given specific instructions on what to do in an emergency (fire, tornado, etc.).

    And I grew up in the midwest and our schools had tornado drills and fire drills every year. I never had a fear of tornadoes or fires. As Paula said most of just felt like it was a nice little break from our usual day.

  23. Michelle Potter December 22, 2011 at 10:17 pm #

    “If all these fire drills and tornado drills and lockdown drills are *not* a huge waste of time–if they fall into the category of prudent, reasonable preparedness–then why do we have them only in schools?”

    Kenny, I think you are mistaken here. Businesses and public spaces do have emergency plans. I often see emergency plans posted in prominent places in buildings; there’s even one on the back of my husband’s key card for work. The difference is that adults are expected to acquaint themselves with emergency procedures, and to remain calm and follow instructions should an emergency arise. I don’t think it’s irrational that children would need to be taught how to behave in an emergency — to remain calm, stay together, and to have a basic idea of how to get to safety. Consider also that hospitals DO have emergency drills. It’s a similar situation to a school, where a proportionally small number of care providers are responsible for a large number of people who may or may not be able to get themselves to safety.

    However, I am not certain what children are supposed to be learning from a lockdown drill. I have never actually experienced one of these drills myself, but I was under the impression that a lockdown just means that all the teachers lock the doors and the kids all stay in the classroom, right? So they are practicing… not doing anything?

  24. Bill Kracke December 22, 2011 at 10:43 pm #

    I am all for the “lockdown” drill as an appropriate response to the possibility of an emergency situation. As many have said, fires and tornadoes are rare, but having a plan, “just in case”, seems reasonable.

    The school my kids attend call their drill “round-up” and it is presented as “some emergency situations require that we leave and others require that we get safe and don’t move”. The last “round-up” was because of a chemical spill in a hallway outside a chemistry classroom (turned out to be nothing). The drill the prior month was “there is a deer in the hallway” (rural school on a heavily wooded campus. More likely scenario than a gunman, by far)

    The round-up is just one of the available responses that the school can make (round-up, evacuate, do nothing, etc.) Gas leak? Sounds like an evacuation. Sudden hail storm? Round up (or nothing). Chemical Spill (round up with a select evacuation – kids in the chem classroom end up in the gym).

    The parallel for me is that we teach our kids “if someone ever were to try and take you somewhere you don’t want to go, you fight, scream, and run away. But really, most strangers are nice. Do what makes sense.” rather than “not talking to strangers is a life skill to keep you alive. No one can be trusted.” There is a difference between “if there is ever a situation where we need to stay put, here’s the plan” and “every day at school is a dance with death. Lockdowns are your only hope.”

    In short, if you are having “crazed gunman” drills, you’ve probably gone too far.

  25. Joanne December 22, 2011 at 10:46 pm #

    When I taught school in 1998/1999, it was after West Paducah, Littleton and Jonesboro shootings. Middle school in small town Arizona. The teachers were given instructions and a code phrase and what to do in the event of a gun on campus. One of the last days of school I’m in my classroom and the code phrase comes over the intercom. I grab any kids out in the hall and follow the procedure. We shut off the lights. The kids get against the wall or under their desks (hidden basically). We report to the office any extra kids I had and any I was missing. And it was scary. Turns out a kid did bring a gun to school and showed some of his friends. The kids hadn’t practiced the lockdown procedures, but we teachers knew and had explicit training on what to do. We kept calm so the kids kept calm even as we were all hiding under desks pretending we weren’t there.

    I’m not sure about drills, though. I remember as a kid disregarding fire drills at some point because that’s all they ever were – a drill. It took away from the seriousness of the event. We never worried when the fire alarm went off because we always knew it was a drill.

  26. Becky December 22, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

    I agree with those that say a generalized “emergency drill” would be better. Do I think a gunman is likely to attack my local high school? No, but I do think it’s possible something might happen that would require the school to be able to account for every student quickly. However, twice a year might be excessive.

    (On a side note, I am fascinated that some places in the country have earthquake drills! I never thought about that, growing up in a part of the country where I’ve never felt the earth move.)

    The bigger question in the post, though, is what we can do to change the popular perception that the world is a terribly scary, dangerous place for kids. Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer for that. We can try our best not to raise our children in a culture of fear so that the next generation isn’t quite as crazy as this one, and in the meantime we can hope that (like most fashion trends), this tendency towards over-protection and excessive worry will fall out of favor.

  27. Kimberly December 22, 2011 at 10:49 pm #

    Kenny Felder – I’ve worked in a large building that had fire drills and disaster drills.

    After the 1st attack on the World Trade Center there were reports from the first responders that the group that did the best job following their directions quickly and efficiently – were the kindergartners trapped the roof and in the elevators.

  28. dmd December 22, 2011 at 10:50 pm #

    I have to agree that having drills – for a variety of situations – is not a bad thing. I work for a university, in a high-rise building, and we have fire drills once or twice a year. The main campus had a lockdown earlier this year (although I was out of town) because of a nearby shooting. We are prone to natural disasters so we prepare for that, too. In fact, while I am FR, I do prepare my child – in a very non-threatening, non-scary way – in the event of rare occurrences. I want him to be prepared. You cannot prepare for everything. In fact, it’s usually what you don’t prepare for that happens. But any preparation can help in future events, even if they were undreamed of. It makes you think and as long as it doesn’t lead you to worst first, it’s not a bad thing, IMO.

  29. melsar93 December 22, 2011 at 10:55 pm #

    the other day at the dinner table my teenager announced that she was going to a lock-in at her school the next night. My ten year old son asked her what that is. After she explained, he said in all seriousness, “Oh, we don’t have lock-ins at our school, but we do have lock downs.” I nearly cried. It was the first I had ever heard of having lock down drills at his school. What kind of world do these people think we are living in? High School Teacher in the North’s letter has inspired me I am going to forward this on to the administrator of the elementary school and my daughters’ high school.

    With the logic behind doing this type of drill we should also have meteor-is-going-to-crash into the school drills and venomous snake attack drills. I mean those things might possibly happen too.

  30. RobynHeud December 22, 2011 at 11:02 pm #

    A previous poster made the comment that a student or teacher of the school is the most likely one to be perpetuating the kind of action that these drills are supposed to be preparing for. I’ve always firmly believed that the greatest danger to any organization comes from within, but when I was in the Navy and on the security team for my ship, I suggested a drill to run where one of our own was the bad guy. I couldn’t believe how quickly I was shot down with my supervisor. He gave me a shocked look and said “I don’t ever even want to think that could possibly happen.” But it does happen, which is why they don’t let people who have gone to Captain’s mast carry guns for a year after.

    So while I hate the worst-first thinking, these kinds of incidences do take place. And while the chances of it happening at any given place at any given time are infintessimally(?) small, I’d still want to know what’s expected than be running around blind, or worse, have everyone running around blind.

    One more example: I grew up on the edge of Tornado Alley, so tornadoes were rare but not unexpected. We had tornado drills ever year I was in school, twice a year, but there was only one real tornado. I was in second grade and panicking once I knew what was going on, but looking back I’m supremely grateful for my teacher and the more seasoned 6th graders that were with us for helping to keep me calm and reassuring me. It doesn’t have to be a scary drill, filled with gunfire and smoke and armed men running around, but like the tornado drills and fire drills, a calm, organized implementation of procedures, whether that’s hunkering down in the hallway, evacuating outside, or locking down the classrooms.

  31. pentamom December 22, 2011 at 11:09 pm #

    FWIW, Pinker’s thesis has come under criticism for his use of statistics and the conclusions he’s drawn from them.

    That said, I agree with the larger idea that we don’t live in a danger-filled society in which disaster is just waiting to strike, etc. However, I also agree with the idea that preparedness drills are worth doing, as long they’re understood in the proper context — one tool that MIGHT turn out to be useful, but neither the solution to every problem, nor the proper response to an “anything can happen” mentality.

  32. Dolly December 22, 2011 at 11:10 pm #

    Kenny: that is not a good argument. Adults have some sense and intellect about what to do in a fire, tornado, etc. Most of them do at least, you will always have even dumb adults who do the wrong thing in such situations. Kids on the other hand, DO NOT know what to do always. They don’t understand what is happening and may not understand you have to get out of the building in a fire. Thus why kids are often found hiding under beds or in closets during fires. Firemen know to look for them there. So for kids drills are not a waste of time.

    As I said as a substitute teacher I was not sure what to do in the event of a school invasion since I could not lock the door. I am an intelligent individual and yet, I do not have all the answers. So putting info out there is helpful, not hurtful. The more informed we are, the better we are. I always hold to that theory. Ignorance may be bliss, but it is not smart either. I like to know.

  33. Library Diva December 22, 2011 at 11:11 pm #

    I agree with Joanne that doing drills too often can de-sensitize people to the alarm. I remember being in my college library when the fire alarm was going off. It was mid-afternoon and crowded. I packed my things and went outside. I was just about the only one. Everyone else seemed to think they didn’t have time for this.

    I feel for kids constantly having to go into lockdown whenever there’s any report of anything bad happening anywhere nearby. I often wonder what it does to modern children to grow up in these prison-like environments. I used to think my high school was terribly restrictive when they stopped allowing us to eat lunch on the front steps. I can’t imagine going to school in the current kind of environment. It makes me want to homeschool. And I never used to agree with homeschooling.

  34. Library Diva December 22, 2011 at 11:15 pm #

    Also, I do agree with Kenny’s argument that there should be drills in workplace. We’re hypervigilant with our children’s safety, but pretty lax when it comes to our own. A woman who worked with me earlier this year and was extremely strange got fired, and for weeks, we were speculating on what would happen if she came back with a gun. She could get right in and probably take out a lot of us, the way the office is laid out.

  35. Uly December 22, 2011 at 11:23 pm #

    I agree with Joanne that doing drills too often can de-sensitize people to the alarm. I remember being in my college library when the fire alarm was going off. It was mid-afternoon and crowded. I packed my things and went outside. I was just about the only one. Everyone else seemed to think they didn’t have time for this.

    I remember in high school, one day they were testing the bells. So they told us all over the intercom not to worry, there was no fire drill.

    Later that day somebody set a fire (the first of MANY over the next few months, it was midterm season) in the bathroom. We were in bio class waiting for our (late) teacher. 7 minutes later she walked in and FREAKED that we hadn’t left yet!

  36. Sarah December 22, 2011 at 11:33 pm #

    My children’s elementary school is implementing lock down procedures and drills, due to parental demand (sigh). However, it’s not focusing on people with guns, it’s a variety of reasons to be rounded up such as wild animals in the school (and yes, that is a concern where we are). Or pets – my daughter was telling me about a time when a dog got into the school. Part of what they get in the drills is what to do if you’re in the hallway during an incident.

    I’m OK with it, as long as it doesn’t focus on “bad people! bad people are out to get you!”.

  37. Vanessa December 22, 2011 at 11:36 pm #

    I’m on the side of being prepared – knowing what to do in an emergency is always better than not having a clue, which is why we teach kids how to call 911; stop, drop and roll; and so forth. I think what creates an atmosphere of fear is not having lockdown drills, but the schools *actually going into* real lockdown mode when it’s not warranted. Gunshots on campus, absolutely go into lockdown. Report that a suspicious person might possibly have been seen somewhere near the school, lockdown not required.

    Re: statistics and bad news vs. good news, I’ve noticed that in the comments to news stories, people will actually complain if it’s a human interest story or a story with a happy ending. Scroll down and there are always comments to the effect of “this isn’t news” and “who cares” and “with the economy/political turmoil/war/bird flu/whatever, why are you wasting my time with this fluff story about nothing?” I don’t know if this means people actually enjoy reading nothing but terrible news, or if they’ve been brainwashed to believe that the world is so horrible that you have to spend every minute staying on top of the latest horrible developments. Maybe a little of both.

  38. Beth December 22, 2011 at 11:40 pm #

    I just hate the trend of using prison terms to describe events and actions in our schools. Has anyone ever read “Lockdown High” by Annette Fuentes? (Subtitle: When the Schoolhouse becomes a Jailhouse) It’s fascinating. There are a few chapters on Columbine, the impetus of it all, and she writes “In a great irony of the Columbine tragedy, the school that is synonymous with school violence has opted not to turn itself into a fortress…..Meanwhile, the rest of the country has embraced just such measures, supposedly to prevent another Columbine.”

  39. Jynet December 22, 2011 at 11:52 pm #

    Both my dad’s generation and mine had Nuclear Bomb Drills.

    Talk about futile.

    Seriously, the only thing I learned was that I didn’t want to live through a bomb dropping anywhere near me! And I promise, ducking under your desk will not save you from radioactive fall out, no matter what your teacher says!

    When they started doing these lock down drills at my daughter’s school I started talking to her about the drills that we did, and her grandfather did, and how IMO they are nothing more than a time waster and she should just enjoy not being in “class” for a few mintues until it is over.

  40. Sharon December 22, 2011 at 11:59 pm #

    My daughters elementary school has two types of lockdowns. One they keep teaching but the doors are locked and no one can leave the room. The other one they hide against their cubbies and are not allowed to talk. She says it hard to stop laughing during the latter because kids make funny faces.

  41. pentamom December 23, 2011 at 12:11 am #

    “And I promise, ducking under your desk will not save you from radioactive fall out, no matter what your teacher says!”

    No, but it might protect you from the results of the explosion some miles away, and enable you to live long enough uninjured to get to some protection from fallout, such as an underground shelter.

    If teachers were promoting ducking under your desk as a means of surviving a near explosion or avoiding fallout, they were speaking out of ignorance. But that doesn’t mean that there would have been no value under any circumstances, in getting under cover.

  42. Debbie December 23, 2011 at 12:18 am #

    We did lockdown drills every year in the school I worked at in Southern California. Ironically, there was a gunman that killed several people in a shopping center only 5 blocks away and no one called a lockdown! Personally, I think 2 a year is excessive, 1 a year is prudent. The kids think it is great fun because they get to hide under the tables and not do any work!

  43. Andy in Germany December 23, 2011 at 12:23 am #

    I had to look and find out what a ‘Lockdown Drill is’: Despite the shootings from a few years back in Germany we still don’t have them. fortunately.

    And if we are that worried about our children’s safety why do we still use cars? More people die in a week in motor vehicle incidents than in the single shooting incident in Germany.

  44. Stephanie December 23, 2011 at 12:24 am #

    I don’t see anything inherently wrong with these drills, but as other commenters have mentioned, the delivery is important.

    An incident that specifically comes to mind is what happened a few years ago at a nearby early childhood learning center. They ran an UNANNOUNCED drill with a masked man (an actor) carrying a fake gun. The teachers had NO IDEA it wasn’t for real. What I kept thinking is this: what if one of the teachers tried to be a hero, snuck up behind the guy, broke his neck and killed him? I get that when people know it’s a drill they might not take it as seriously, but it’s just as likely that someone could have gotten seriously hurt, or even killed, because they DIDN’T know it was a drill. And all for something that will almost certainly never happen.

  45. walkamungus December 23, 2011 at 1:04 am #

    If you want to wax nostalgic about the “duck and cover” drills of the 1950s, there’s a marvelous documentary from 1982, _The Atomic Cafe_. The entire film is constructed from archival film footage: Army training films, Civil Defense films, newsreels, etc., and takes a very black-humorous approach to just how crazy things were during the Cold War.

  46. Josh December 23, 2011 at 1:06 am #

    Thanks for this. I just walked my son to school – all of 100 yards from our house to the school. He’s 7. He could make it by himself just fine, but the norms of my community are such that, were I to expose him to that “risk,” I’d be a “bad parent.” Similarly, it wouldn’t even be possible for me to allow him to walk home alone, because the school insists on discharging its students (who range from pre-K to 5th grade) TO someone.

    When my son was born, some friends (from my parents’ generation) sent me a Google map purporting to show all the convicted sex offenders living in my neighborhood. I’m not sure what they hoped I would do with the information contained in it – mainly what I did do was marvel at the delusion which leads us to imagine that the “sexual predators” we need to fear are people we don’t know.

    My sense in all of this is that we spend a lot of time and energy trying to protect our children from highly improbable dangers (school shootings, sexual predators) as a response to our own sense of a lack of control in the world. We imagine, foolishly, that we can protect our children, when in fact what we must do is prepare them. (Of course, we DO have to protect them as well – but the line between that from which we must protect them and that for which we must prepare them is thin.)

    If I could protect my son from sadness, disappointment, fear, loneliness, hurt, anxiety, I would. But I can’t. Any more than I can protect myself from those things. Often, I think, we cling to the idea that there’s some way we could protect our kids from the inevitable pains and suffering of life, and rather than acknowledge our inability to protect them from life’s inevitable slings and arrows, we instead focus on the highly improbable events.

    I’m grateful for your blog, which provides a voice of reason. Thanks.

  47. justanotherjen December 23, 2011 at 1:15 am #

    Lockdown drills aren’t just about kids shooting up their school or some psycho breaking in.

    My kids school went into lockdown on December 7. Just blocks from a school some nutcase set his house on fire and then opened fire on the fire and police responders. And some poor good samaritan that stopped to knock on his door to warn him his house was on fire.

    There was a tense standoff that lasted from 8am until 3pm. There were over 100 shots fired by this lunatic and video footage from neighbors showed the bullets were reaching blocks away.

    For their own safety the elementary school my kids go to, the high school behind and another elementary school a few blocks away were put into lockdown for the entire day (no one in or out). There were also kids on buses still heading to school. They were taken to the bus barn where they stayed until lunch (they then allowed parents to pick them up with ID).

    They also evacuated the Safeway right behind this guy’s house and the stores in the surrounding parking lot. The neighbors nearest this guy had to take cover in their houses and weren’t allowed to leave but others farther down the street had to evacuate.

    It was a crazy day for our little town. The lockdown worked perfectly (and was called by the police). The kids were safe in their schools while this crazy guy was on the loose. All my kids could talk about that day was the lockdown. How half their classmates got stuck at the bus barn and they couldn’t go outside for recess because some nut was shooting up the neighborhood. It was the highlight of the week for them. They were supposed to have a half day but ended up stuck in school until their normal release time.

    My oldest was at the middle school which was miles away and not in lockdown but since the buses weren’t running she was stuck at school an extra hour until my husband could go get her.

    The fact that the school has drilled (like once a year) for this helped immensely. There were some parents that were very upset that they weren’t allowed to get their kids from school. They dumbly braved the streets around the shooting to get to the school and were turned away without a door opening. On the news I was flabbergasted at the number of parents in tears because they were so worried about their children. The children safely in their schools with the doors locked so no crazy person could break in and get them. They were near hysterics when picking up their kids at the end of it all.

    Luckily, that was a small majority. Most of the kids came home on their buses just like normal although there were more parents waiting outside for them (me included because I was curious to see how their unusual day went). We live less than a mile from the shooting and could hear the gunfire from our house and see the fire but none of my neighbors panicked. We all just stood in our yards watching and wondering what the heck was going on.

    These drills at school aren’t emphasized any more than their earthquake drills and fire drills. There’s nothing wrong with being prepared.

  48. kiesha December 23, 2011 at 1:19 am #

    I work in a 30-story building in Times Square. We have two fire drills and two “Emergency Action Plan” drills a year for every single floor. We all understand that “EAP” means some kind of bombing, shooting or terrorist activity.

  49. Dulcie December 23, 2011 at 1:41 am #

    My daughters elementary school had a yearly school evacuation drill. Every year, they closed the road so 400 elementary school kids could walk the block down the road to a ‘safe spot’. Ironically, being in Hawaii, the safe spot was right next to the ocean and we, as parents, couldn’t think of a single incident where our children would be safer being closer to the ocean versus further away. The only thing we could come up with was that there was no convenient public space for the kids to convene if they went uphill vs downhill, hence their oceanside safe spot. We told our children that in the event of a school evacuation to not listen to the teachers but to head uphill and we’d look for them there.

    Worst case thinking being solved by inane bureaucracy helps no one

  50. kiesha December 23, 2011 at 2:07 am #

    Dulcie, reminds me of my high school’s evacuation plan. Our district’s high school and middle school were both on a hillside about two football fields lengths apart. Our own actual football field was no more than 30 feet from the back side of the high school. Columbine happened the spring of my senior year, so we got a few bomb threats called in. The original plan was to send all the high schoolers to the football field. If they school had blown up, we’d have all been killed. The next plan was to send us down the hill to the middle school. If someone who planted a bomb knew that, they easily could have called the threat into the high school but actually plant it in the middle school, thus killing double the students!

    I suppose they could have sent us all into the woods, because that’s what was on either side of the schools. Living in the boonies does have its disadvantages.

  51. Bill Sweeney December 23, 2011 at 2:30 am #

    The college I teach at is required to have one each year. Fortunately, our administration has chosen to have it each year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving at 3 PM – when our students, faculty, and the quarters of the staff are gone.

  52. Juliet December 23, 2011 at 4:23 am #

    We are Jewish and our kids attend Hebrew/Sunday school twice a week. They have periodic lockdown drills that are SO scary. They purposely do them without warning and everyone participates, including any adults who happen to be on campus. The first time it happened, I had no idea what to do (we were new to the school.) Another woman told me, “Find someplace that’s a good hiding place and lock yourself in.” Then they are giving these different scenarios like “multiple gunmen” etc and it’s just very, very scary. The kids actually seemed pretty matter-of-fact about it which is probably a sad commentary on how they’re used to having school shooter lockdown drills at their regular public elementary school too.

    I question how effective these drills are (vs fire drills which are a very good thing to practice.) Seems like whenever there are unfortunate incidents of school shootings, it’s always very random who survives and why. I doubt that doing drills is a way (if there even is a way) to prepare.

  53. Marie December 23, 2011 at 4:39 am #

    I think there’s a certain amount of sense to having drills, so long as you don’t go overboard on them. It may require some sense to cope with different emergencies, but the basics should be drilled in so you know what the initial response should be. From there, you’ll hopefully have the time to figure out where your actual response should vary from what you learned in the drill.

  54. Cheryl W December 23, 2011 at 6:25 am #

    I had big problems with the fire/evacuation drill that my daughter’s previous school had.

    All the fields were on one side of the school grounds. Being CA, the school had open “hallways” more like long porches between rooms. The kids in the kindergarten classes, instead of walking around the back of the school (which would be a long way) were supposed to walk through a series of these porch/hallways to get to the fields. Which, unless it was their room that was on fire, would mean they would have to walk past the fire, or be under it if it was on the roof.

    Every other building I have ever been in, you go out the nearest structure and stay away from all structures in your trek to the meeting place. Never ever go through things like this school did.

  55. In the Trenches December 23, 2011 at 6:34 am #

    @pentamom: By “criticism” of Pinker, are you referring to the New Yorker bit by Elizabeth Kolbert? If so, here’s his response:

    Are there better critiques of his methods out there?

  56. baby-paramedic December 23, 2011 at 7:02 am #

    My old school had fire drills and lockdown drills. Lockdown drills were explained as what to do in bad weather (we don’t have many tornadoes, just regular bad weather with wind and hail etc). They were activated once at a nearby school when a police chase happened through the school grounds.
    My old workplace (an office) had the same drills, fire and extreme weather. We probably had at least one legitimate extreme weather event per year, excluding natural disasters (which have different rules again, but is all controlled at a State level). Natural disasters only happen every few years (yay living on a continent that keeps trying to kill us!)
    It is nice to know what to do. Rain that might cause flash flooding triggers a particular response in me (get home now or arrange somewhere else to stay), fire warnings trigger another (pack car ready to go). I do not consider this worst-first thinking as such, more a general preparedness for the frequent natural disasters one gets in Australia. Because of the preparedness in the floods we were fine, despite being cut off for a week with no electrcity. When the fires came we got out alive, which is more than I can say for some of my neighbours.
    No different than making every Australian child aware of what to do in case you get bitten by a snake – and that information does save many many lives each year. Everyone knows dozens to have been bitten by snakes (they are significantly less docile than many snakes in the world, and will chase and attack on occasion with no reason or warning).

  57. Jynet December 23, 2011 at 7:42 am #

    pentamom, on December 23, 2011 at 00:11 said:
    teachers were promoting ducking under your desk as a means of surviving a near explosion or avoiding fallout, they were speaking out of ignorance. But that doesn’t mean that there would have been no value under any circumstances, in getting under cover.


    In our entire city the farthest any of us would be from the target would have been about 20KM (large oil refineries that we were told had Solviet bombs aimed at it at all times… this was one of the targets that the US wanted to protect so they put a defense ring in the Canadian arctic to protect it and similar targets). And we weren’t even that far away, and dad’s school was even closer.

    And really? If the roof of the school isn’t going to protect you, you think the desk will do a better job? No, those drills were pointless. Just as pointless as these “lock down” drills today.

  58. justanotherjen December 23, 2011 at 8:29 am #


    What’s pointless about being prepared for an emergency?

    I’m glad my kids’ school had lockdown drills so the staff and kids knew what to do when the time came. The school remained calm, all the kids were accounted for and safe during a prolonged, tense situation just blocks from the school.

    I think they needed to be more obvious in what the procedure was to parents, though. Many freaked out and went to the school (driving past the firefight) and banged on the doors, demanding to have their kids back. But the school refused to open the doors because of the lockdown–for the safety of the kids. The parents should have stayed home until the all clear was given. They put their own lives at risk for

  59. baby-paramedic December 23, 2011 at 8:35 am #

    Desks do protect, maybe not flimsy school desks mind. Think about people who were pulled out of the destroyed buildings in Christchurch, and how many were crouched under desks? (Answer, I can think of three women who were dug out in the following days who directly attributed their initial survival to their desks).
    In an earthquake where are you meant to go if you’re indoors? A door frame OR underneath a sturdy table (or so my memory serves me, I could be wrong, don’t live in an active earthquake zone!)

  60. socalledauthor December 23, 2011 at 9:01 am #

    First, I don’t really have a problem with 1 lock down drill a year, and I really like how some commenters described their school using it as an emergency preparedness. Someone even noted that their school describes it as some situations mean we go outside and others mean we stay inside. Because lock-downs have become part of school culture, I don’t have a problem with it. We used to have fire drills, tornado drills, and bus evacuation drills. I think the local schools have maybe 1-2 fire and tornado drills– don’t know if they still do bus evacuation drills. I think it was good training… and once kids get to middle and high school, I think more than 1 drill of each type a year is excessive, as by that point kids know exactly what to do.

    What concerns me, though, is the increasing use of lock-downs. I’m not that old and we NEVER had a lock-down at school. Bomb threats, sure. We sometimes had self-described rednecks bring their hunting rifle to school in the truck and we once had a criminal on the lam run behind the (old) high school– still no lock-down, but staff were posted near the exit doors to keep us inside. Now, a bomb threat means lock-down. A “suspicious person” means lock-down. It seems like it’s becoming an overused and perhaps over-the-top precaution. I know schools are worried about covering their butts– JUST IN CASE, but is the response entirely appropriate? (Yes, some cases, they are the best precaution, but others, like the ones in my local schools, I’m not so sure.)

  61. Andrea December 23, 2011 at 11:43 am #

    My kindergartener came home just last week and said she was in the library and they had to turn off all the lights and her friend was scared and crying. I was baffled by the whole thing and my 3rd grader explained that I was a drill. I then had to look it up on our school district website. They lock the door, turn off the lights, close all the shades, including the one by the door and have designated hiding spots in the room to go to. Then the principal walks around and checks every door. WHAT?! Can you imagine being in a dark, silent room hiding while someone rattles the locked door? Talk about instilling fear!

  62. Lisa Holbrook December 23, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

    I teach in a US high school outside of Chicago. Two weeks ago, we were gathered for a faculty meeting and one of the items was the new requirement that we all wear our ID badges at all times. The part of all of this that was troubling is the principal’s reasoning. Another suburban high school had a gun threat and one of the teachers, because he didn’t have his ID was forced to lay down and was cuffed since the police had no proof that he was faculty. Our principal said, “since it is INEVITABLE (my emphasis) that this will happen here eventually, I want you all to have your IDs to save you the embarrassment.”

    In speaking to my colleagues, I was the only one who thought it ridiculous to assume that a school gunman was “inevitable.” Not only that, but if there WAS a gunman, embarrassment would be the LEAST of my concerns!!!

  63. Lisa Holbrook December 23, 2011 at 12:57 pm #

    After reading some of the comments, I will also tell you that, for high school students, it actually inures them to a crisis. I think that in the case of a REAL lockdown, our kids would completely disregard the practiced drill. A month ago we had a real fire in the building and the kids continued to behave as though there was no risk, including defying direction to try to get back into the building. Drills do not prepare kids, they jade them.

  64. 1ElleofaWoman December 23, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    “I’m not particularly a fan of any drills as handling a real emergency requires critical thinking and not strict adherence to some plan since most true emergencies are not textbook. Teaching critical thinking in emergencies would make us much safer than drilling into us that when X happens, you do Z and only Z because sometimes Z may not be the best option.”

    I think both are needed. Many of the people who survived the Twin Towers collapse did so because the did what they felt was right, not what they were told. E.g. headed down the stairs even though the announcements said stay where you were; carrying a disabled friend down the stairs instead of leaving them in an area to wait for fire fighters liked they were told to do in drills. However, most survived because of the drills that had been done and/or knowledge of where the stairs were located, etc.

    I realize that this is an extreme example, but it is one that does show the value of preparedness AND common sense.

    As for the original post, I agree that drills on a whole are a good idea but the presentation shouldn’t be “the world is awful, there are crazy people coming to attack us.” It should be more understated. (I like the wildlife in the halls drill; doesn’t work in urban settings though.)

  65. Rachel December 23, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    I work for a nonprofit that administers Early Head Start, Head Start and Child Development programs. In the last year, we have had two lockdowns. One because of an armed robbery suspect who was fleeing from police in front of one facility and had fired shots at police. The other because of a knife and gun wielding robber who was somewhere in the immediate neighborhood of another facility, had already stabbed two people, shot an officer and fired shots wildly.

    The county I’m talking about is consistently ranked between the 10th and 18th richest in the nation. Gun violence is almost unheard of, and yet it just so happened that we had two fairly serious incidents, literally in sight of two of our facilities. In the moment, when teachers and students are hearing gunfire outside the window, there was no way to know who the gunmen were or whether they had any intention of harming faculty or students. The only sane thing to do in the moment was take cover as taught by our lockdown drills.

    Lockdowns are not just in case of violence within the school, they are also in case of violence immediately outside. Considering how random random violence is, it was made clear to us from these incidents that having lockdown procedures and drilling them on an annual basis is a very good idea. We have earthquake and fire drills, though noticeable earthquakes are terribly rare and a fire has never happened, and we manage not to give the students the sense that they are always in imminent peril. It is sound to follow the same practice for lockdowns.

  66. Rachel December 23, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    We and many others also participate in a statewide earthquake drill every October called the Great California Shake-out. All the schools and government offices and many businesses participate. When we engage in drills sensibly, it not only acquaints everyone to appropriate evacuation routes, but it serves as a reminder for us all to restock our first aid kits and emergency supplies (necessary not just in case of a significant earthquake, but for the storms that, some winters, leave us cut off from utilities and basic services).

    The key though is SENSIBLY. I can’t believe the schools that actually have actors and police mimicking shootings in the hallways without warning. Those schools should be on the hook for those teachers’ and kids’ therapy bills. If I were a parent of a child at one of those schools I would have a fit. There would be lawyers and news vans involved.

  67. Michelle December 23, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    I think this over protection of ones kids is hotwired into parents – they have to look after their kids. However, in our modern western world there is not too much that can go wrong in a normal middle class suburban neighbourhood. If there are not real dangers parents unconciously percieve dangers that they can protect their kids from. Coming from Africa where kids have many issues to deal with and seing an 8 yr old looking after littler siblings – and doing a good job of it-I fear parents are overprotecting their kids in suburbia and not sufficiently equipping them with the tools to cope in a normal world on their own…..

    As for critical thinking – I applaud any efforts introducing critical thinking in schools anywhere – having to get students thinking INDEPENDENTLY at univesity, like I do, is frustrating and difficult!

  68. ann December 23, 2011 at 11:00 pm #

    In my normal middle class neighborhood, there have been two scary man with a gun situations on the play ground. One was someone who robbed a house and one was someone’s drugged out adult son who robbed a pharmacy.

    Rare, but not so rare that it didn’t happen in a very unexpected place. I guess I’m glad the school had a plan for locking the doors quickly.

  69. Chris December 24, 2011 at 3:13 am #

    I don’t mind the drills, but I think they are way too quick to trigger the real thing.

    Earlier this year at my daughters middle school someone saw a man walking along or in the woods that line the school. Oh my god – can you believe – someone WALKING in the woods… perhaps enjoying nature. Nothing was ever mentioned that indicated anything this man was doing was remotely threatening, he was just ‘there’.

    The result… LOCKDOWN. So for two hours our kids sat under their desks and read.. halting all learning. I found it ridiculous.

    I can understand sending the school resource officer to investigate. I could understand instructing gym classes to stay inside (though I think that may have even been a stretch – what was he going to do – gang molest them all???)… but to lockdown the whole school – crazy.

  70. pentamom December 24, 2011 at 4:07 am #

    “In our entire city the farthest any of us would be from the target would have been about 20KM (large oil refineries that we were told had Solviet bombs aimed at it at all times… this was one of the targets that the US wanted to protect so they put a defense ring in the Canadian arctic to protect it and similar targets). And we weren’t even that far away, and dad’s school was even closer. ”

    Every community has its myth about the “particular target” that will be hit since you live there. Maybe the one you’re talking about was well backed-up, but there was one in the community I grew up in that I realize was completely ludicrous when I got older. At any rate, there’s no guarantee that’s the ONLY place that could be hit, rather than somewhere farther away. And yes, ducking under the desks WOULD protect you from the impact of an explosion 20 KM away. Not entirely, but more than nothing, which is the point.

    What would the desk protect you from that the roof of the school wouldn’t? How about objects INSIDE THE SCHOOL flying around? The roof does nothing to protect you from that.

    The initial detonation isn’t the only thing that can affect you in something as catastrophic as a nuclear explosion — the shock waves spread and cause all kinds of havoc. Sure, in the end, the radiation might get you anyway — but would you rather go through that with a smashed in face or broken bones, or without? And you might be able to get away, depending how far away you were, before the dose was bad enough to do more than shorten a still reasonable life expectancy. It’s really not useless to do what you can, even if you can’t protect yourself from the worst case.

  71. Matt December 24, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

    “Are Lockdown Drills Necessary?”

    For whom?

  72. In the Trenches December 25, 2011 at 12:28 am #

    The perceived risk of nuclear attack was always higher than the actual risk, even during the cold war. Keep in mind that there were only ever two nuclear bomb attacks on anybody anywhere. Even the Cuban Missile Crisis, we are now learning, was a long way from the near-annihilation that was in the papers. When I was in the Army, our field manual showed us the response to a nuclear blast, which was to lie down on the ground and point our helmets at the mushroom cloud. The whole thing is absurd.

  73. jenincanada December 25, 2011 at 2:53 am #

    I could’ve written this letter. When I was in teacher’s college and doing my practicum, the Code Red was explained to me and I was against it. I knew there was something wrong with preparing our kids against an infentesimally small chance of a deranged person coming into the schools and shooting people but I couldn’t articulate it at the time. Not being able to just ‘shut up and go along with it’ is partially responsible for me leaving the program. I’m sorry but I wont participate in the brain washing and fear mongering of the next generation.

  74. Jeanette Glass December 25, 2011 at 4:18 am #

    Really we are talking about nuclear bomb drills 50+ years ago and 20+ years ago. They WERE useless, and they were proved to BE useless by the fact that there was NEVER an atomic bomb dropped by the USSR, and never one dropped since WWII by America.

    A LOT of those bombs still exist, and the governments that now control them and their new counterparts, including N. Korea, are MUCH more unstable than the governments that controlled them 20-50 years ago.

    If what they taught was so useful, that it out weighed the terror they produced, why are we no longer having the drills?

  75. Steve December 25, 2011 at 5:18 am #

    This discussion might be more valuable if the question asked is:

    How important are lock down drills for incidents that rarely happen compared to instruction and schooling on far more important information that is NOT being taught or emphasized that would make all the difference in a students later life?

  76. pentamom December 25, 2011 at 6:44 am #

    “They WERE useless, and they were proved to BE useless by the fact that there was NEVER an atomic bomb dropped by the USSR, and never one dropped since WWII by America.”

    That’s the same logic that says that if you never had a fire in your house, your smoke detectors were “useless” all those years — so therefore you shouldn’t have had them.

    I’m not saying that those bomb drills were all that important or necessary, but you don’t judge preparedness by the yardstick of whether the thing you’re prepared for actually happens or not — you have to use other standards, like the likelihood of the risk (which is rather harder to assess), the opportunity cost (i.e., as Steve notes, the time taken from other things, though I can’t see that a few minutes under the desk a couple of times a year is the make or break of education — the problem of wasted instructional time really lies elsewhere) and other considerations.

    It’s easy to say in hindsight that the bomb drills were useless because the risk was never that great, but I doubt it was really that easy to know the answer to that back then. If someone who has a reputation of killing people threatens to kill you, you don’t tell yourself that he’s probably not either as angry or as strong as he wants you to think — you lock your doors and call the police.

  77. Jynet December 26, 2011 at 8:32 am #

    Steve, on December 25, 2011 at 05:18 said:
    This discussion might be more valuable if the question asked is:
    How important are lock down drills for incidents that rarely happen compared to instruction and schooling on far more important information that is NOT being taught or emphasized that would make all the difference in a students later life?

    Thank you Steve, that is the point I was trying – in a rather round about way – to make. The terror of the drills then, and these lock down drills now do not add to our children’s preparedness for real life.

    I also don’t believe that the government didn’t know how unlikely it was that the USSR would start a nuclear war that they couldn’t win, but it was then, as it is now, easier to control people who are scared of something. Preferably something “other” that can be made into the ultimate evil.

  78. In the Trenches December 27, 2011 at 10:39 am #

    What we’re trying to do is similar to applying hindsight in real time, I guess. We keep finding out, over and over again, that the fear-du-jour is never as big as it seems in the moment. Why not just learn the lesson that fears in the moment are not valuable tools for making rational judgements, and use some other method, like probability, instead? …While, of course, remembering that the really big events in history tend to be Black Swans anyway: in other words, unpredictable, improbable, rare.

  79. FrancesfromCanada December 27, 2011 at 3:26 pm #

    A couple of people have commented that drills jade students. That probably happens if they are too frequent, or too long, or pose a scenario that’s too improbable. But is it true, always? Do we have evidence for that?

    I hope my child gets to go a school like the ones mentioned above, with sensible drills to cover the three main responses (wait; evacuate; hunker down in place) without emphasis on the scary scenarios. That makes a lot of sense to me.

  80. In the Trenches December 28, 2011 at 12:50 am #

    Further to the conversation, here is a link to my (long) response to the question on my blog:

  81. pentamom December 28, 2011 at 3:18 am #

    “While, of course, remembering that the really big events in history tend to be Black Swans anyway: in other words, unpredictable, improbable, rare.”

    Right, but generally being prepared for things in life makes you more prepared for the unpredictable, than if you didn’t prepare at all, right?

    As noted above, a good number of people were better off on 9/11 using critical thinking instead of just following the rules, but things would have been a whole lot worse for a whole lot more people if most people hadn’t learned the basics of “proceed in an orderly fashion in an emergency,” and things like that.

    You can’t drill for everything, and you shouldn’t dwell on the scary scenarios, but a reasonable amount of preparing kids to follow procedures instead of panicking in unpredictable emergencies can only be to the good.

  82. DH December 29, 2011 at 1:04 am #

    “And really? If the roof of the school isn’t going to protect you, you think the desk will do a better job? No, those drills were pointless. Just as pointless as these “lock down” drills today.”

    Getting yourself into something that can be considered survivable void space is a chance at surviving building collapse. The roof may fall down on the desk, but the space underneath the desk has a chance of becoming void space. There have been many examples after large earthquakes that sturdy pieces of furniture have a high likelihood to provide survivable space underneath even when roofs and walls fall on them.

    So ducking underneath the desk is considered a survival technique for anything that might cause building collapse. An earthquake or explosion being among those.

  83. Backroads December 29, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    Having been a teacher during an actual school lockdown (yes, we had a man with a gun at an elementary school), I’m not opposed to drills. In fact, I kind of wish we did more of them, but present them as what they are: practices meant to instill automatic responses in emergency situations instead of cries that we could be attacked at any given moment. Yes, it all comes down to about the same actions during the drill, but the mindset would be different and that’s what important. Drills should instruct, not scare.

  84. Donna December 30, 2011 at 6:33 am #

    “A couple of people have commented that drills jade students. That probably happens if they are too frequent, or too long, or pose a scenario that’s too improbable. But is it true, always? Do we have evidence for that?”

    I don’t know what is meant by “jaded” but I can’t think of a single person who NEEDS to have fire or any other drill at least once a year EVERY year for 13 years or who gains anything from the repeated experience. Really, if you haven’t gotten the necessary concepts (don’t panic, walk in an orderly fashion, listen to your teacher, etc) by the time that you are out of elementary school, you are unlikely to ever master them (or be mentally functional enough to live independently) so additional “drilling” is not necessary.

    So from personal observation, fire drills (the only drills I had) were play time after about 2nd grade. Nobody paid attention. Nobody cared. Everybody goofed off as much as possible. Some even tried to come up with ways to thwart the drill. We had to be bribed into cooperating fully – extra recess, ice cream or something similar for the quietest, most orderly class, otherwise, it would just be rowdy kids going nuts. I can’t see a single benefit to this.

    And before someone says “but what about the new kids,” I changed schools frequently as a child. The actual path changed but the important concepts do not change from school to school. Apply what you already know, follow the other kids to the exact meeting spot and you’re good. I can see drilling young children annually and then once for the incoming class in each school thereafter (6th grade, 9th grade), but yearly drills for everyone seems pointless to me.

  85. Frances January 1, 2012 at 11:33 pm #

    I’m usually hardcore free range, but I disagree here. You would be surprised at how often events happen that might necessitate a lock down, especially in neighborhoods with a high crime rate.

    Two is excessive, but one seems reasonable to me. We did them in my high school and they took 10 minutes. It isn’t paranoid in my book, it’s a wonderful exercise in common sense.

  86. kherbert January 10, 2012 at 7:52 am #

    Another reason well thought out drills are a good ides. We had a very bad storm blow through our area today. Before it hit, I reviewed our duck and cover procedures. Around 8:30 the principal announce we were in a yellow lockdown. No students outside of the classroom.

    We had downdrafts and tornadoes bouncing around and parts of the building were flooding. A neighboring school had some of its front windows blown out by either a sideswipe of a tornado or a downdraft). Our classes located in portables were relocated to various hallways/corners of the building. In some cases sharing rooms with other classes.

    The administration pulled the core team (reading specialist, math specialist, EC specialist, nurse, councilor) specials team (art, music, computers, PE), and inclusion/special ed aids. Those staff members came around came around and escorted kids to the bathroom as needed. They also came in and collected car keys from all staff that parked in the back parking lot and moved their cars to higher ground for them (other wise the cars would have been floating down the street)

    We were released from lockdown at about 11 am, when the storm passed. The kids remained calm and working the entire time. They know the procedures, so it wasn’t scary or strange to them.

    If you want to see the aftermath of the storm –

  87. SMK January 10, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    In my middle school we do one lockdown drill each year, during the in-service days before students arrive. Before I began teaching there, there was a fugitive gunman in town, and they had a real lockdown then. Another time was when they had a non-custodial parent who had come to kidnap their child. It is the latter scenario that our principal thinks is the larger concern.

    As for drills, our students are pretty good during fire drills, which are very fast, and they do take our tsunami drills seriously; both before and after a tsunami drill the students have a lot of questions about what would really happen in the event of a tsunami: Yes, we say walk during the drill, we don’t want you to sprain your ankle, but in a real earthquake + tsunami? Those who can, RUN! And, I’ll carry you up the hill if I have too, and I hope my daughter’s teacher will do the same. Better yet, I hope someday we really do build a large campus for all our five schools up the hill.

  88. Cheryl W January 12, 2012 at 6:41 am #

    I take my oldest son to the school for speech therapy. While we were there today, they had a “non-critical” lock down. They said that no one was allowed outside, and lunch classes were to have recess in their classrooms.

    A child fell off some play equipment and was hurt. They wanted to keep all driveways and such clear for the emergency personnel that was on the way.

    At our ALE (home school school) we have had several non-critical lock downs when kids at the neighboring alternative high school had medical emergencies such as asthma attacks that reqiured calling for more professional help than what was available. Again, it was to allow access for emergency personnel.

    Hopefully, the elementary school will not be taking out the play equipment due to whatever happened.

  89. Cheryl W January 12, 2012 at 6:58 am #

    I think that the drills jade the teachers more than students. When we were in CA, we did earthquake drills. I happened to be in the copy room (as a parent volunteer) when one was conducted. I went under the table in the adjoining teacher lounge. It turns out the principal was making the round ensuring that everyone was complying and yelled at the teacher in the lounge because she didn’t do it.

    It made me smile. The teacher had been my daughter’s kinder teacher and was a word that we use for female dogs. Not kind to the kids and putting them down all the time for being kids.